Much hype has been created around the latest smartphone from BlackBerry the Z10. Journalists saying it’s a “make-or-break” device for the Canadian firm, it’s reported to be pretty much tanking in the USA and that the Chinese government is rumoured to have ordered 2 Million of the Qwerty version. All-in-all some mixed publicity.

There are a few rays of sunshine coming out from behind the clouds of gloom. The Z10 scored 4/5 on techradar, 8.2/10 in user reviews on gdgt.com and engadget.com calling it a “pretty nice phone”.

 

Aesthetics

Smartphones are all beginning to look pretty similar. Black or white, with a touchscreen and minimal buttons. The Z10 follows this same pattern; no stylistic points can be given here, most people asking if it is an iPhone 5, until they spot the BlackBerry logo. The Z10 is available in black or white, with a 4.2-inch 1280×768 HD screen and only four buttons – screen lock, voice control and volume.  The dimensions are somewhat larger than an iPhone 5 but it sits very comfortably in the hand and all parts of the screen are easy to reach whilst using one hand.

The Z10 is not a head turner, but it is not ugly either. It is well-built, with quality materials and fit and finish rivaling the best out there. Although, the use of plastic as a back cover is questionable, especially when other manufacturers are using glass and metals. The soft touch back does make it less slippery though.

 

Display

The screen is brilliant. In my opinion it is the perfect size for a smartphone, it has plenty of real estate but is not too big (looking at you Galaxy Note 2) that it hinders usability. The picture quality is sharp and clear, even in direct sunlight.

An interesting innovation from BlackBerry is the screen can be unlocked just by swiping up from the BlackBerry logo at the bottom of the Z10. This is such a simple feature, but I now find myself attempting to unlock every other smartphone with the same gesture! Well-done chaps…

 

Operating System – BlackBerry 10

Here is the clincher. BlackBerry had to pull something amazing here to salvage their reputation as the ‘battery-pull OS’. As a result BlackBerry purchased a software company called QNX and have been honing that OS for some time now, premiering it on their largely unsuccessful tablet – the PlayBook.

QNX is special because it is, most likely, one of the most stable and reliable pieces of mobile software currently available. Why? Well because they have to be. Prior to its arrival in the Z10, QNX was used to power autopilots in commercial jets and as the basis of management systems for military tanks – no room for battery pulls there.

As a result, BlackBerry 10 running on the Z10 is one of the most stable, slick and consistent operating systems I have ever used on a smartphone. BlackBerry 10’s stability rivals iOS and its gesture based interface makes Android 4+ look and feel archaic.

This gesture based interface allows a swipe right from the home screen to reveal the ‘BlackBerry Hub’ an ordered amalgamation of pretty much all communication streams. Email, Facebook chats, notifications and requests, Linkedin messages and requests, Twitter @replies and DMs, BBM’s, Whatsapps, SMSs and phone calls, all appear in a well structured list accessible from any application in BlackBerry 10.

How the BlackBerry hub is accessed from anywhere is simply genius. From the home screen with all your apps, it’s just a simple swipe right. From an open app it gets interesting. You may have noticed there is no ‘home button’ on the Z10, this is because to get back home requires a swipe up from the BlackBerry logo (as can unlock the screen). Now to get to the BlackBerry Hub, what is required is a swipe up and right – boom! All your communications are there. This is extremely slick, I have never felt so connected on a Smartphone.

BlackBerry have combined the Hub with a feature BlackBerry call ‘Peak’ –how it works is when swiping up to get back home, all your notifications appear on the left of the screen – allowing you to see if there is anything important. If there is, then a swipe right will allow you to “peak” into you hub and get a quick glimpse of the message, BBM etc. to gauge whether it requires a reply immediately, or if it can be ignored. If it is the former, swipe fully right and the BlackBerry Hub opens. While if it is the latter, swipe back left or up and you’ll be taken to the home screen.

This took a little getting used to but wow… once I got the hang of the whole gesture based interface it became second nature and now there is not another smartphone that I can navigate through this quickly.

 

The Keyboard

BlackBerry have traditionally been known for their impressive Qwerty keyboards. As a result moving it over to a full touchscreen may be a challenge. Impressively they have pulled it off, the keyboard on the Z10 is the best keyboard on any smartphone, even compared to Swiftkey on Android. It continued the gesture-based interface by using context and history based prediction to anticipate your next word and placing it above the next letter you’re about to type. Instead of typing out that whole word, flick the word that is placed above the letter up and it completes it in the text box – brilliant and fast.

 

App Store – BlackBerry World

App envy. It is a real thing and on the Z10 you suffer. All the basics are there, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Foursquare, Whatsapp, FNB, Kindle and News 24 but it is still a sparse place even when compared to Windows Phone. I miss a decent to-do application and even though Evernote is integrated into BlackBerry 10, quite frankly they did a terrible job and I want an Evernote App.

It is possible to purchase music from BlackBerry World but the range is limited and the albums are expensive – buy your music on iTunes and transfer it using BlackBerry’s desktop software.

 

Price

The Z10 is priced as a premium smartphone, comparative with Android and Apple. The Blackberry Z10 does not use BIS, which offers all you can eat from around R60. BB10 devices such as the Z10 and upcoming Q10 use data like any other smartphone.

The good news is data prices have dropped drastically. There are packages available from Cell C, Vodacom, MTN and Telkom Mobile, which are extremely comprehensive and well-priced, for both data and voice – as a result I can’t imagine users spending much more than they did before on their older Blackberry.

 

Conclusion

The BlackBerry Z10 is one of the most impressive, intelligent smartphones on the market today. BlackBerry put significant effort into improving the built quality and creating an OS that is rock solid.

The Z10 faces two major challenges. Firstly, the app store is still pretty lame. Secondly, the lack of BIS, while I don’t believe will make much of a difference on user spending but is a bit of a mental hurdle for existing users of the brand.

If you are a committed Blackberry fan and find the functionality and applications on any current Blackberry just what you want, the Z10 will blow you away. All the Blackberry goodness with a right up to date OS, coupled with great Hardware. If you are heavily invested in the Android or Apple ecosystem, then the change may not work for you for now.

Overall Blackberry have brought their offering right up to date. BB10 is competitive with anything else available from any other manufacturer, and retains all the clever thinking that made Blackberry great in the first place, along with clever innovations such as the gesture based, Flow “navigation” as well as the outstanding keyboard. My recommendation is that before you go out and just buy your next smartphone, try the Z10, or upcoming Q10 with physical keyboard, you may well be duly impressed.

 

Brendon Ambrose – Managing Editor | About Me – Scared of: Clowns, spiders and Hilary Clinton; Dream Wing Man: Jacob Zuma; Started Writing Tech: 2005 for Gadget.co.za; Favorite cereal: Frosties; Find me on: Twitter & Facebook
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